By Suzy Kridner
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Just in time for the holidays, there's a vibrancy on Canal Street, including increased traffic and sales, said one business owner.
"Foot traffic is up significantly in our stores and sales are up," said Cindy Jones, owner of Southern Trends Home Furnishings, 334 Canal St., and president of the Canal Street Historic District Association. It's one of the city's two historic shopping areas, along with Flagler Avenue.
"In the last four years. the deep recession has affected Canal Street as it has every small downtown," Ms. Jones said. "But we are beginning to turn the corner."
"Canal Street is really taking off. With businesses and restaurants, it should be a nice destination for people," said Ms. Jones, who has been in business there 29 years.
Her comments were echoed by Bob Wiley, a major property owner on Canal who recently completed renovations to a 9,000-square-foot building at 235 Canal St.
"Canal Street is going to turn into a destination point with restaurants and design stores," he said. "All your decorating needs can be done in one spot."
Two retail tenants, Coastal Interiors and the Flooring Center, have already opened in his renovated building, he said, and infrastructure is going in for a restaurant on the corner of Canal and Rush Streets.
He said the property was originally the city's Post Office built in the 1960s, then the Pennysaver building.
When Mr. Wiley acquired the property in May 2011, he said he put a business plan together and requested a grant from the Community Redevelopment Agency.
"I have over $1 million of my own funds, plus some CRA funds," invested in the property, he said.
CRAs were started as a means to encourage private enterprise to invest in often blighted areas.
But in recent decades, the slow moving CRA train started to result in revitalized downtown areas."
"(CRAs are) a really wise use of scarce public resources," said Dr. Ruth Steiner, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Florida.
"It encourages more redevelopment investment, instead of a system where you're building new facilities that are further away (from downtown) and not accessible to many residents in the community.
CRAs have been used to revitalize downtowns, preserve landmarks and even construct in-fill housing in downtown neighborhoods, according to the Florida Redevelopment Association by-laws.
Another major Canal Street property owner, Richard Rosedale, has been working on a two-story office building on the corner of Canal and South Orange streets since December 2011.
He has obtained a CRA grant, in addition to his own funds, to construct the building at 426 Canal St. on a lot that's been empty since 2008.
His last hurdle was a meeting recently with the Utilities Commission and he hopes to start developing the site in a week or two.
Mr. Rosedale said he's talked to some possible tenants but has nothing concrete.
He was asked by city commissioners earlier this year about having housing on the second floor.
"I'll let the market dictate that," he said. "If nothing happens for offices upstairs, I may consider housing."
But he's concerned about noise from two nearby restaurants.
He said it's been a real learning curve developing a building from the ground up, rather than doing renovations.
"That's why you buy property that's already in place," he said.
Mr. Rosedale also is high on the growth of businesses on Canal Street.
"I've seen so much enthusiasm in the last year. There's real momentum going downtown," he said in an earlier interview.
He mentioned the 12 Oaks Gifts and Home Décor at 501 Canal Street.
His lot at 426 Canal was cleared in 2008 after a building housing Room Service Design was damaged in a fire.
Patti McCracken, owner of Room Service, then moved to 421 Canal St.
"The new building that just opened on Canal is so beautiful with its landscaping and big windows," Ms. McCracken said.
She, like other merchants, said she's been very busy and is having good sales of pillows, rugs, and accent pieces.
"We renovated our building, also most property owners are reinvesting in their property," she said.
Ms. Jones said many events are coming up for the holidays.
"Christmas on Canal Street is our signature event that started the revitalization of Canal Street." "We work hard at it, she said. "It takes a lot of dedicated people who find a way to go good things that everyone benefits from."